Speaking the language of change? (2017)

Speaking the language of change?
Nissim Mannathukkaren, The Hindu (newspaper), July 17,2017

The World Bank’s reports show that social movements may be shaping the bank’s language

Democratic Centralism entails popular participation in formulating the plan at the enterprise level. — World Bank Romania country report, 1979

The World Bank’s ‘World Development Report 2017’ is a remarkable document. Remarkable, because it does not seem that the World Bank authored this document titled “Governance and the Law.” When the report cites Michel Foucault, that incandescent French thinker, who showed us how supposedly free and rational institutions of modernity are indissolubly linked with power and social control, it is time to sit up and notice.

Politics and power

This is not an accident for the central focus of the report is politics and power in development policy, and the endeavor is to move politics and power “from the margins to the core of development thinking and action” and to “development practice… health and education… transportation and food…” (p.271).

How does then a rethinking of governance for development look like? The report stresses on three key principles which differ from traditional approaches: 1) Focus not only on the right form of institutions, but also about the functions of institutions. 2) Focus not only on building the capacity of institutions, but also about power asymmetries, and 3) Focus not only the rule of law, but also about the role of law (p.29).

Nissim Mannathukkaren is Chair, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada

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